Israel On The Cutting Edge: 10 Years of Innovation


Israel On The Cutting Edge: 10 Years of Innovation

Aaron Feigenbaum

Just 10 years ago, Israel was struggling amidst a weak economy, water and energy scarcity, and a lack of foreign investment. Since that time, Israel has become such a powerhouse for innovation that many call it the “Startup Nation.”

Currently, Israel has one of Asia and the Middle East’s leading economies, with thousands of startups and billions of dollars in investment from across the globe. Promoting everything from new recycling techniques to artificial intelligence, Israeli companies are pioneering some of the most impressive and world-changing technologies yet seen. Israel is also connecting with more people in the world through humanitarian aid, increased trade and exports and by attracting foreign companies and investors. Here’s a sample of the some of the incredible progress achieved by this forward-thinking country:

Sorek desalination plant

With its hot and dry climate, Israel has long grappled with water scarcity. Today, advancements in seawater desalination have made water abundant. In fact, Israel is a world leader in desalination, having pioneered such techniques as reverse osmosis, which is now used around the world. The Israeli company IDE built the world’s largest desalination plant, Sorek, which alone produces 20% of Israel’s household water. The company’s designs have attracted foreign clients, such as San Diego County, which commissioned the company to build a $1 billion plant to address the California drought. Israel is also by far the world leader in water recycling – about 90% of Israel’s wastewater is reused.

In the area of medicine, Israel has made countless revolutionary breakthroughs. One of them is ReWalk, a system designed to help those with spinal cord injuries walk again. It uses computers and motion sensors to mimic the way a person naturally walks and even allows users to climb and descend stairs. Another Israel invention is WoundClot, a highly absorbent gauze made of cellulose that stops severe bleeding in minutes by bonding to a person’s platelets (clotting blood cells). This has the potential to save lives before an injured person even reaches a hospital. The Israeli company Zebra Medical Vision has developed advanced artificial intelligence software to analyze millions of medical records, read, and diagnose medical images such as CT scans, and then develop a care plan based on those diagnoses. A company called Bonus has created and successfully transplanted lab-grown bones made from a patient’s fat tissues. Another company, OrCam, has made a small device attached to a person’s glasses called MyEye which helps the visually impaired by taking a picture of whatever text the person is looking at and reads that text aloud. The Israeli startup Healthymize recently won the mHealth Israel Startup Competition with its AI-enabled app that detects illnesses simply by analyzing a person’s voice and breathing pattern.

ViRob robotic surgery

ViRob robotic surgery

Robotic surgery is another area that has benefitted significantly from Israeli innovation. The company Human Extensions has developed a bionic surgical glove that enables surgeons to precisely and smoothly carry out tasks in a wide range of complex operations. Perhaps one of the most “sci-fi” inventions is that of ViRob, a micro-robot made by Microbot Medical that can send a camera, medicine, or shunts to narrow, twisting parts of the body such as blood vessels and the respiratory system, allowing for very minimally invasive procedures.

With tens of thousands of patients on organ donor waiting lists each year, the time has come for technology to fill in the gap. One Israeli company, CollPlant, promises to do just that with a special “biological ink” that mimics human collagen and can potentially be used as a scaffold to 3D print organs.

Israel has also proven itself a leader in humanitarian aid. From the recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas to the recent earthquake in Mexico, many countries struck by disaster have come to rely on Israeli aid organizations for their quick response and expertise. In Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, IsraAID is on the scene helping people rebuild their homes as well as providing emergency supplies and psychological counseling. In Haiti, IsraAID has been providing assistance since 2010 when a devastating earthquake left thousands homeless. Israeli hospitals have been working tirelessly to treat Syrian refugees and have even integrated Arabic-speaking social workers, teachers, and rehabilitation professionals to further assist Syrian patients. When deadly mudslides recently struck the impoverished African nation of Sierra Leone, Israel was the first to respond, bringing thousands of pounds of food and medical supplies on trucks. Among many more humanitarian endeavors, Israel has also provided a state-of-the-art medical center, child literacy, and agricultural programs in Ghana as well as helped fight fires in Montenegro.

The world of self-driving cars is fast-approaching and Israeli innovations are at the forefront of it. Notably, the chip manufacturing giant Intel purchased the Israeli company MobilEye (which makes A.I. collision detection technology) for over $15 billion earlier this year. One company, Cognata, has gotten around the restrictions on testing self-driving cars by using artificial intelligence to simulate an entire city in 3D. Their software has already mapped San Francisco and driven millions of virtual miles to study how the cars interact with their environment. Self-driving cars also need to be hack-proof, which is where the Israeli startup Karamba Security comes in with software built into the car’s electronics that ensures that no program run by the car deviate from factory settings. Israel’s Otto has developed a self-driving trailer truck that was tested in Colorado recently. It carried a full load of Budweiser beer and successfully traveled over 120 miles from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs without any human intervention.

The food industry too has been shaken up by Israel’s spirit of ingenuity. Perhaps one of the boldest food innovations yet is SuperMeat’s lab-grown chicken. Rather than raise a chicken for consumption and deal with the environmental, ethical, and health (i.e. antibiotics) issues that the process entails, SuperMeat takes chicken stem cells, cultures them, and grows them into a product that they claim tastes exactly like normal chicken. Another company, Meat the Future, uses the same process to make lab-grown beef. In the world of food safety, BactuSense has developed a chip to help food and beverage plants detect bacteria within two hours as compared to the current 24-hour waiting period needed to send samples to a lab. GreenWall Israel is building vertical gardens that use far less resources than traditional gardens and grow crops on modular walls that can be combined or separated as needed. The company even sells walls small enough to fit in homes. India, whose agriculture has long suffered from the highly invasive and destructive Oriental fruit fly, has expressed interest in Israeli company Biofeed’s no-spray, environmentally-friendly pesticides.

When it comes to cybersecurity, Israel is regarded as the gold standard. Perhaps the best example of Israel’s cybersecurity prowess is the IDF’s Unit 8200, an elite spy agency that is considered by many to be one of the best in the world. Israel’s private sector too has excelled in cybersecurity innovation with multinational corporations and governments announcing multimillion dollar contracts with Israeli startups. 300 of Israel’s cybersecurity companies exported over $6.5 billion last year.

Ashalim solar

Ashalim solar

While Israeli renewable energy development has long been stifled by a dependence on fossil fuels and lack of government support, the tides are beginning to change with initiatives such as building the world’s largest solar tower. Part of the Ashalim solar project, the tower would be located in the Negev desert and stand at 820 feet. It will work in concert with several other adjacent solar projects, each using a different type of solar technology. Israel has set a goal of obtaining 10% of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from the current 2.5%. Companies such as Energiya Global, which announced a $1 billion deal to invest in solar energy in Africa, have helped spread Israeli renewable innovation abroad.

Indeed, demand for Israeli tech across the world is at an all-time high. Thousands of delegates attended this year’s Digital Life Design Conference in Tel Aviv. The delegates included everyone from entrepreneurs to representatives of big tech corporations like Facebook and Amazon. A new high-tech research center was built on New York’s Roosevelt Island through collaboration between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The Israeli company IDenta has shipped tens of thousands of its drug and explosive detectors to customers such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the city government of London.

Israel’s overall economy is extremely strong. 23 million tourists entered the country between January and August representing a 24% increase over 2016. Hotel occupancy rates hover around 65%, which is quite impressive given the Israeli hotel industry’s notoriously high prices. More and more international airlines are adding Tel Aviv and Eilat as new destinations. Many big-name foreign companies such as Intel, Google and Ebay have set up research divisions in Israel. Despite relatively high levels of poverty, income inequality, and increases in healthcare spending, Israeli life expectancy and health have been improving overall. Israel has also seen a large increase in the GDP and a large decrease in the public debt and unemployment.

Google’s Tel Aviv office

In short, Israel has made enormous strides both economically and technologically in the past 10 years. Israeli companies have been responsible for some of the most fascinating and useful innovations found around the world, and Israel continues to be a leader in humanitarian aid and human rights. The next 10 years look very promising indeed.

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